Free Parking? Breaking Our Addiction to the Parking Lot

Cars may be the #1 contributor to climate change, but did you know that drivers looking for parking make up up to 40% of city traffic? And building more parking lots only makes the problem worse.

A recent report (pdf) on U.S. parking policies by the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy is a great resource on parking policy as a lever for sustainable urban transitions.

Parking policies have a huge impact on our urban spaces. How you regulate parking can be the difference between walkable and bike friendly downtowns or sprawling big-box retail islands surrounded by seas of asphalt.

Through six U.S. case studies including Portland, Chicago, San Francisco and New York, the report "U.S. Parking Policies: An Overview of Management Strategies" lays out both the problems and possibilities tied to parking.

Their key recommendations are to set parking maximums, not minimums; coordinate parking regulation with public transportation; replace free parking with metered spots that encourage turn over and reduce congestion; and use parking revenues to fund increased transit, parks and other local benefits.

A few highlights:

- "Historically the "parking problem' has been identified as the problem of too little supply; increasingly the problem is now seen as the poor management of existing supply and, in cases where cities have instituted parking maximums, the problem is understood to be of too much supply."

- "Minimum parking requirements have contributed to a cycle of automobile dependence that is especially damaging to city centers. More parking reduces the cost of car use, which leads to more car use and more demand for parking." ... "Minimum parking regulations reduce density, and increase distances between destinations. This reduces land values and increases traffic congestion, storm-water runoff pollution, air pollution, and construction costs, as well as discouraging walking, bicycling and public transit."

- Since the 1972 Clean Air Act more and more U.S. cities have been setting maximum, not minimum, off-street parking regulations: "Their objectives include promotion of higher density development, walkable downtown areas, promotion of transit and other transportation modes (to increase choice and reduce congestion), as well as the original intent of reducing auto use and harmful emissions."

- "Good access is easily impeded by abundant parking. Conservative parking requirements allow better accommodation for public transit, walking and bicycling."

- "Metering is a response to the irrationality of the claim that “paying with your time” is as
reasonable a rationing algorithm as paying with money. But this discounts two important facts. First, the motorists cruising for parking pays with his or her time, and the time of everyone stuck in traffic behind him. Second, neighborhood residents suffer from the additional air pollution, noise, danger and degraded quality of life caused by cruising and the additional traffic congestion it engenders."

Comments

6 Responses to "Free Parking? Breaking Our Addiction to the Parking Lot"

Anonymous said... 1 March 2010 at 14:43

Yes, plus this meaning of cruising in no way leaves behind those others, curb "cruising" to park. But let us not forget to give mention to the continent-wide millions of illustrious Me-anderthals sitting in parked vehicles: on plugged-in laptops, reading classified ads, writing manifests, talking on cellphones: all with either Air Conditioning or the Heater blowing; and fleets of truck engines smoking in neutral for hours each pressurized working day; their delivery drivers & "deadlined" labourers unwilling to take the key out of the ignition because they will have to find it to put it into the ignition again.

David Yoon said... 1 March 2010 at 19:59

Very good points here...it's amazing how few people factor in parking to the overall cost of car ownership.

Alex Aylett said... 2 March 2010 at 15:55

Hey David, thanks for stopping by. Really enjoyed looking at your "Narrow Streets" mock-ups.

If other readers haven't seen the NarrowStreets LA project, you should check it out: http://narrowstreetsla.blogspot.com

The power of digitally enhanced imagination!

Sogen said... 4 March 2010 at 05:05

Hi Alex,
Greetings from Durban, South Africa. I enjoyed this read. It sure is food for thought for our planners here too.

Often, it is about how we frame the problem, isnt it? Tackling the real cause of the issue is critical for more sustainable solutions. Well done - love this blog!
take care
Sogen

Alex Aylett said... 9 March 2010 at 10:54

Sogen,
great to read you. Yes, I think the framing of the problem is really important.

We are also in an era where -- at precisely the same time that North Americans are realizing how many problems we have caused for ourselves -- other countries are imitating our approach to planning and development.

The leap frogging arguments all depend on planners, activists and citizens outside the west being able to avoid our mistakes. That's a pretty tall order.

It makes it all the more important for studies like these to circulate in places where you haven't locked yourselves into the same viscious circles that we have.

Alex Aylett said... 9 March 2010 at 10:54

Sogen,
great to read you. Yes, I think the framing of the problem is really important.

We are also in an era where -- at precisely the same time that North Americans are realizing how many problems we have caused for ourselves -- other countries are imitating our approach to planning and development.

The leap frogging arguments all depend on planners, activists and citizens outside the west being able to avoid our mistakes. That's a pretty tall order.

It makes it all the more important for studies like these to circulate in places where you haven't locked yourselves into the same viscious circles that we have.

About




This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.


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